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TUSC Gospel Oak byelection rally: Offering an alternative
The public meeting on Thursday 7th March in support of Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate John Reid's byelection campaign was everything TUSC is about.
A roomful of 35 people brought together local trade union and workplace representatives, community campaigners and other working class people to begin the serious work of building a genuine alternative for working people.
With Paula Mitchell chairing, the meeting was kicked off by RMT union general secretary Bob Crow. He expressed his personal support for John (apart from John's QPR supporting habits of course!) but also brought the official backing of the RMT for John's TUSC campaign in Gospel Oak.
Bob explained that the RMT is proud to be part of TUSC and dismissed those who 'sniggered' at the important work TUSC is engaged in.
On the campaign trail one of the key issues that come up time and again is housing. Rising rents and the 'bedroom tax' are bearing down hard on working people in Camden, many of whom are being forced out of an area their family has called home for generations.
For that reason the speech of Isabel Counihan-Sanchez, from the Counihan housing campaign was listened to closely by the meeting.
The Counihans, a working family of seven living in Brent, were evicted from their home after their housing benefit was wrongly cut.
Their stubborn fight, supported by Brent TUSC and others has dominated the campaigning scene in Brent for the past eight months.
Isabel and her daughter Sarah outlined how their campaign has already won a partial victory in getting their housing benefit restored.
Sarah Counihan-Sanchez declared that if people are ready to organise they can defeat similar injustices in Camden.
Thanking the Counihans, John Reid promised to use his position as RMT London Underground secretary to bring his union's support to the campaign.
Countering the main parties
John explained he was prompted to stand by the leaflets of the Tories and Labour. Rather than put forward a way to stop the cuts, both parties were more interested in blaming each other.
"People are not statistics. Every cut has a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary people in the borough.
"Financial pressure can see families pushed out of the area or even see them break up under the stress. I'm running to put a real alternative to the cuts of the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour.
"The rich are seeing their wealth increase while the rest of us struggle to get by. Property speculation is driving up rents and driving working people out.
"My two stepdaughters who went to school here have been forced to move to Walthamstow because they can't afford to buy or rent here in Camden".
John was particularly scathing of Camden council's plans to force 761 families out of the borough.
"This is happening all over London. The super-rich want to force working people out of central London so they can enjoy it for themselves.
"We will be forced out 50 or 60 miles away and only let back in for a few hours a day to drive their trains, clean their streets and act as their domestic servants before being told to clear off out of the city once our shift finishes.
"I'm not going to let that happen in Camden. This campaign isn't about egos, it's about what's best for the movement.
"Whether I'm elected or not, I'll be campaigning alongside people fighting to defend their homes and their services.
"We need to re-learn some of the methods from the anti-Poll Tax campaign when we had phone trees to rally people on estates to stop the bailiffs. We should do the same thing if our neighbours are facing evictions.
"I do not accept that Labour have no choice but to implement the cuts. We need councillors who are prepared to build a mass campaign to stop the cuts like they did in Liverpool and Lambeth in the 1980s"
John ended his speech to big applause.
Points from the floor
The highlight of the meeting was the discussion from the floor.
Camden Unison co-chair Barry Walden (speaking in a personal capacity) gave his full support to John's campaign.
Unfortunately Barry lives 100 metres outside Gospel Oak ward so he can't vote for John but if he had the option he would give John his vote and urged others who do live in the ward to do so.
Barry then warned that further cuts in Camden are on the way and that a serious fight back is necessary if they are to be stopped.
The majority of the speakers from the floor were women. The cuts often bear down hardest on women as they tend to be a high proportion of the workforce in low paid public sector jobs that are being slashed.
Many of the services women rely on personally or in a role as primary care giver for children or relatives are usually the first in line for swingeing cuts at council budget-setting meetings. In fact many women employed in the public sector are often the sole wage earner in their household.
Despite the undoubted difficulties there was no lack of willingness from the female speakers from the floor to organise the struggle.
Helen, a former member of the Labour Party explained that she left Labour because the majority of that party's councillors and activists had active contempt for working people in the ward.
"They run the ward in the interests of people who live between Mansfield Road and Constantine Road (an affluent area of Gospel Oak bordering Hampstead Heath).
"They've got no time for us that live in the south of the ward on the council estates. They look on us with disdain".
Angela, a PCS union member working in Revenue and Customs called for direct action and strike action to roll back the attacks from the rich.
She also called on PCS to use its political fund to back trade union and socialist candidates.
Susan got a big round of applause for her contribution when she told the meeting she attended a filming of Question Time as an audience member.
When Ian Duncan Smith appeared in the studio she stood up and loudly told him he had blood on his hands for the thousands of people who have died thanks to the Tories' cruel back-to-work scheme for those on disability benefit. Ending her contribution she said:
"I do live in the ward and I will be voting for John. I think everyone else should do the same".
Steve Hedley, assistant general secretary of the RMT spoke briefly to urge unions to take the same step the RMT took 11 years ago and break with the Labour Party.
One contribution from a council worker summed up the reason why TUSC decided to run in this byelection. "Finally I have someone to vote for!"
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 11 March 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.